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Critical Quest
The Challenges Before The Anti-Caste Movement In India
Atrocities against ex-untouchables have been on the rise in
India in recent times. There is no state where some forms of
caste atrocity, untouchablity practices, discrimination and
social exclusion is not a daily happening. The recent
incidents in Dharmapuri, Villupuram, Virudhnagar, Theni of
Tamilnadu is only the tip of the iceberg; yet it narrates
volumes on its functional mechanism in the present phase.
The vigour, violence and vibrancy of caste – with essential
modifications from its original format – is quite active even
today. In this paper, I attempt to look at the various
challenges that the anti-caste movement may have to bravely
face at present and also be prepared for further.
birth from the present lower caste background to a higher
ladder. This elevation as per the ‘shastras’ was only possible
through tireless service of the upper caste lords in the
present birth thereby avoiding the traumas in the next birth
(George, 2011: 1).
Goldy M George
This traditional order was an ideological construct along
with an economic and political structure. It articulated and
encapsulated an entire system of production that existed over
centuries with only minor alterations within its confines. The
economical and political realities of inequalities were
justified, defined and glorified through religious
pronouncements based on the purity-pollution divide
(George, 2011: 2).
Caste in Theory and Practice
The social system of India as a nation is based on caste. It is
an open truth that Dalits, one of the most oppressed and
repressed strata anywhere in the history of world, still reel
under the nefarious chains of casteism. It is essential to
understand the context under which the people at the
grassroots are resisting the challenge. Also it will give us a
wider picture of the nation as a whole and its complexes
from the abyss. While discussing it, one should not get an
assumption that we were not in any sort of crisis earlier, but
today the crisis has expanded to unpredictable magnitude
with severe implication and utter insinuation. As a
community we are in crisis – the crisis of life; the crisis of
disharmony; the crisis of livelihood; the crisis of
sustainability and so on. The state is helpless (George,
Caste, Feudalism and Capitalism
Caste system is perhaps the oldest feudal system in the
world. Traditionally, ritualistic compulsion and coercive
oppression ensured their compliance in providing virtually
free labour for the upper caste landowners. The fact that they
had been denied right over land or territory only
compounded the matter by making them completely
dependent upon the owners and controllers of the means of
production and livelihood (George, 2011: 2).
The downfall of feudalism in Europe was also the beginning
of modern capitalism. With the growth of capitalism as a
world economic system, it aligned with dominant social
systems. In India, capitalism began to exploit its roots during
the colonial British regime. The programme of capitalism
had its earlier collaboration with Indian mercantile capital
and British capital. Unlike Europe, it did not have to battle
against feudalism; rather it was implanted on the trunk of the
latter in India. As a result, even in the capitalist institutions
in the cities, caste discrimination simultaneously existed. Dr
Babasaheb Ambedkar was quite aware of the exploitative
potential of capital and hence he had declared capitalism and
Brahmanism as the twin enemy of his movement. Capitalism
was in an infantile stage then, but Brahmanism encompassed
the phases of slavery, feudalism and extended its tentacles as
we see to the phase of imperialism (Teltumbde 1997: 40).
Caste as a system runs as the lifeline of India’s reality. Since
caste still operates as a definite pre-condition in establishing
marriages, social relations and access to employment –
millions of Dalits and other low-caste people remain behind
in education, employment and access to wealth. Although
untouchability and casteism is banned in India,
discrimination is widely practiced, and statistics draws the
logical conclusion that there is a broad correlation between
one's economic state and one's position within the caste
hierarchy (George 2013: 2).
Caste as a system could be understood in two parts viz. the
material and the ideological-cultural-spiritual. The material
base of caste operation systematically took away the control
over property (the entire resource base), operationalised
division of labour, income distribution and surplus
appropriation. In the second part, the geo-centric culture,
history, ideology and spirituality was replaced with an alien
culture built on slavery and subjugation. The shastras
referred the indigenous people of impure origin, which in
turn groomed a psychological feel that the latter’s culture
was substandard. Because of the substandard culture –
determined by ones’ birth– the communities were subjected
to inhuman suppression. Everything was centered on ‘birth’.
They were culturally, ideologically and spiritually forced to
apply all energies on the revival of their ‘status’ in the next
In recent times capitalism has surfaced back in new form in
the name of globalisation. Principally globalisation
aggravates social divide between the have and have not.
Globalisation emerged as the cannon folder of capitalism
in the mid-eighties and early nineties. Practically
globalisation is nothing new, it is the establishment of the
territory of the mighty across the globe through dictums
of political and economic power centres and its
controlling points.
The fundamental attribute of globalisation, then and now, is
the increasing degree of openness in most countries. The
openness is not simply confined to trade flows, investment
flows and financial flows; it also extends to flows of
services, technology, information, ideas and persons across
? Year – 1 ? Issue – 1 ? June 2013 ? Buddhist Voice ? www.buddhistvoice.com